New Swinton Lions coach Allan Coleman says he and his players will take it one game at a time as they plot an against-the-odds escape from the relegation zone.
The 45-year-old stepped up from his role as assistant to take the reins, initially until the end of the season, after Stuart Littler parted company with the bottom-placed Lions following a 14th defeat in 14 league games this year.
And Coleman, who is also the England Community Lions director of rugby, made an instant impact as his charges clinched a 22-18 win at Dewsbury.
That provided a big boost ahead of the home clash with Oldham, who currently occupy the other relegation berth.
Swinton now have six games remaining, starting with another home game, this time against Batley, on Sunday.
And Coleman, who had a successful five-year stint coaching leading community club Leigh Miners Rangers, where he previously played, and also took charge of Leigh Centurions’ Reserve team before joining the Lions in November 2018, says they are staying positive despite their predicament.
“We are where we are, and all we can do is look forward,” he added.
“I knew we weren’t far off getting a win when Stu was in charge. While we have some older heads, the bulk of the squad are younger, more inexperienced players who perhaps haven’t been in the situation we are in.
“We’ve tried to get them into a positive mindset about the things they can control and encouraged them to stretch the good parts of previous performances into longer spells.
“Winning against Dewsbury was a great start, and it was fantastic to see what it meant to the players, the people behind the scenes who have put so much hard work in and the supporters who have stayed loyal to the club.
“But we know we have to carry it on, and the priority is to keep working hard and keep taking steps forward, however small, and see where that takes us.
“We know the size of the task, but we’ll certainly be giving it our best shot.”
On-loan prop Tom Grant has returned to Leigh while back Sam Grant has left the club for personal reasons.
TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE coach Sylvain Houles says it’s great to join Catalans Dragons in flying the flag for French rugby league.
While promotion-chasing Olympique retained the second-tier leadership and preserved their 100 per cent record going into their game at London Broncos by winning 23-6 at Featherstone, the Perpignan side went into their match at St Helens on top of Super League with 15 wins from 16.
The dual success comes against a backdrop of France bidding to stage the 2025 World Cup.
“It’s good to see both clubs up there,” Houles told League Express. “There’s a lot of talk about the French game at the moment, and what Catalans are doing is unbelievable.
“They have renewed their squad with clever signings and are getting the rewards. They have a lot of French talent and it’s good to see French youngsters coming through and doing really well.
“I think we can feel Rugby League in France becoming stronger, and maybe this is a turning point. If things keep going well, we will be going the right way for once.
“If Catalans got to the Grand Final, it would be a huge boost, and if we can get promotion, it would fantastic. To have a French derby in Super League would be huge.”
Houles, who made 13 appearances for France during a career which started in Catalans’ second team and took in spells at Huddersfield, London Broncos, Dewsbury and Wakefield as well as Toulouse, added: “Hopefully we can have international meetings also.
“To have a good and healthy competition between England and France at both club and national level is what our game needs.”
The Featherstone-Toulouse clash was watched by more than 4,000 fans at the Millennium Stadium, and Houles said: “It was a great atmosphere and a great game to play.
“We really wanted the result, it turned out well for us. Credit to Featherstone, they put in a lot of effort, and it’s been a while since we played such a tough game.”
Ongoing rules on travel to and from France mean Toulouse’s scheduled home games against Halifax on Saturday and Batley on Saturday, August 28 are set to be postponed.
FEATHERSTONE ROVERS coach James Webster says his Super League-chasing side have “dusted themselves down” after the disappointment of a first league defeat under his command.
Rovers, who have been hit with a deduction of two league points and fined £10,000 after a breach of RFL operational rules relating to indoor gatherings during the pandemic, went into action at Batley aiming to bounce back from the 23-6 home setback against table-topping Toulouse in what many predict will be the play-off final.
While Featherstone were beaten 34-14 at home to Super League Hull in the third round of the Challenge Cup in April, their last league loss was 26-24 at home to Toulouse in September 2019, when Ryan Carr was coach.
Rovers then claimed play-off wins over Leigh, York and Toulouse before a 24-6 Championship Grand Final defeat by Toronto in Canada, after which Carr returned to Australia and fellow Australian Webster took the reins.
Featherstone won all six league and Challenge Cup matches before last season was cut short by Covid.
And they faced Toulouse having chalked up 13 league victories this year, plus two in the Challenge Cup and two more in the 1895 Cup, which they lifted with a 41-34 Wembley win over York, their visitors in the league this Saturday.
“Well done to Toulouse – they were the better side over 80 minutes,” said Webster, who has brought in Wakefield fullback Alex Walker on loan until the end of the season, while Will Dagger has been recalled by Hull KR.
“It was pretty evident it’s the first time in the league this year that we have come up against a side as strong as that.
“We have got some catching up to do, we understand that. We have dusted ourselves off and tried to work out why we made those errors.”
Featherstone have agreed one-year contract extensions with prop Craig Kopczak, back rows Brett Ferres and John Davies and Australian hooker Connor Jones and two-year extensions with winger Gareth Gale and fullback Craig Hall.
But prop James Harrison will join Warrington on a two-year deal next season.
HALIFAX PANTHERS coach Simon Grix hailed backline partners Greg Worthington and Zack McComb after his play-off-chasers made it eight wins on the spin by beating neighbours Bradford 24-21.
An eleventh victory from 15 league games overall strengthened the Panthers’ bid for a top-six finish and provided a big boost ahead of the follow-up home meeting with Newcastle.
Former Featherstone, Leigh and Toronto centre Worthington, 31, and versatile ex-Oldham and Sheffield 25-year-old McComb were both closed-season captures on two-year deals.
“Greg got his first try for us, which was great to see, although he is not defined by how many he scores,” said Grix, whose side’s scheduled game at Toulouse on Saturday is set to be postponed.
“He’s been in our top three every week in terms of performance and he always contributes, making life easier for everyone around him.
“Greg has been doing a really good job, and has probably gone under the radar a bit, although his teammates appreciate all he does.”
Local lad McComb is an Ireland international and former Huddersfield junior who started out at leading community club Siddal.
“We played Zack on the wing, which is unusual for him, but injuries left us with little choice,” explained Grix.
“To say he’s had so little experience there, he showed no nerves and did a really good job. He was man of the match for me.”
Halifax’s defeat of Bradford followed wins over Sheffield (home and away), York (home), Swinton (away), Batley (away), Widnes (home) and Whitehaven (home).
“After being 14-4 up, we did it the hard way, but at the end of the day, it was another win, and that’s the most important thing,” said Grix.
“It was third against fourth, so it put that little gap between ourselves and a good Bradford side.
“There’s work to do, and we need to learn to be more composed and ruthless and when we get a lead, to protect what we have.
“But we showed resilience, which was pleasing, and we found a way to get the win. There was a character test there, and we passed it.”
French second row Kevin Larroyer started a two-match suspension against Newcastle.
YORK CITY KNIGHTS coach James Ford says he jumped at the chance of bringing Wigan forward James McDonnell back to the club on another loan deal.
The 21-year-old back row, who featured in two games earlier this year, has returned on week-to-week terms.
Those games, at home to Widnes and away to Oldham, brought two of the Knights’ five wins in 14 league matches ahead of the home meeting with the Vikings.
Ford worked with McDonnell within the England Academy set-up, helping England to a 2-0 series victory over the renowned Australian Schoolboys side in 2018.
The Wigan-born former St Judes junior came through the Super League club’s development system and figured in two Academy Grand Final triumphs.
He made his first-team debut as part of a much-changed side in the 42-0 Super League defeat by St Helens at the AJ Bell Stadium in September of last year.
McDonnell also played in the Warriors’ 14-6 defeat at Wakefield in June.
Ford, whose side visit Featherstone on Saturday, said: “I’m delighted to be able to bring James back to the club.
“He carries plenty of contact, work ethic and a desire to compete at everything. I’ve really enjoyed coaching hime previously.”
McDonnell said: “I feel like my first loan spell was cut short so it’s great to be back with York.
“I’m hoping I can get some more game time and help York on their way to achieving what they want from this year.”
York have made extensive use of the loan system this year and McDonnell joined four already on the roster, the others being Leeds centre Corey Hall and hooker Corey Johnson, Warrington back row Jacob Gannon and Huddersfield fullback Aidan McGowan.
York went into the Widnes clash having not played in a fortnight following the postponement of their scheduled match at Sheffield due to Covid issues in the Eagles camp.
OLDHAM‘s coaching consultant Brian McDermott has underlined his commitment to the club’s second-tier survival mission.
And the ex-Leeds chief, who won four Super League titles during a trophy-laden eight-year spell at the helm, says he is full of admiration for the way his part-time squad are tackling the challenge.
Having visited basement side Swinton, second-bottom Oldham are preparing for six more key fixtures, starting with Sunday’s visit to Sheffield, as they attempt to preserve the Championship status won in 2019.
Former Great Britain prop McDermott, who has also coached Harlequins (now London Broncos) and Toronto, told supporters vis his column in the club programme Roughyed Review: “I must state what a privilege it is to be associated with this club.
“(Chairman) Chris Hamilton made contact and we met to discuss what advice and help I could offer. I went into the meeting with a certain mindset and left with another.
“While Chris was speaking to me and telling me of the challenge, I realised that it wasn’t ‘help and advice’ that was needed, it was a job that needed time and commitment, a job that has little margin for error and hasn’t many weeks to achieve the aim of staying up.
“I’ve been implementing systems and techniques to make the team more resilient and able to stay in the contest longer. Once we have that resilience we can start to compete, break teams down and break their defensive line, something we need to do a lot more if we’re to score tries and win games.
“The men have been outstanding in their willingness to adapt and change. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work alongside them and there’s a certain amount of humility apparent as I watch them get to training straight from work with little time to prepare for the intense sessions we’ve been having.
“If they’re willing to make the same commitments on game day as they do in the week then I’m confident we will be in great shape toward the back end and those crucial last few games.”
Oldham have taken a trio of players on loan – 22-year-old Widnes utility back Lloyd Roby, former Castleford Reserves hooker Brad Jinks, 20, from local community club Waterhead and 18-year-old Huddersfield prop Fenton Rogers.
BRADFORD BULLS assistant coach Mark Dunning is backing Joe Brown to carry on filling the halfback void as Danny Brough closes in on a return to action.
The Bulls’ veteran playmaker, now 38, has been sidelined since June by a bicep injury which needed surgery.
When fellow halfback Jordan Lilley was ruled out by damaged ribs, Bradford signed old boy Joe Keyes on loan from Hull KR.
Ex-Leeds man Lilley, 24, was back for the derby clash with Halifax, who won 24-21 at The Shay – but Keyes was absent due to a head injury, then recalled by Rovers.
Brown normally plays fullback or winger – but the 22-year-old Bradford-born Academy product switched to stand-off for the Halifax clash.
And Dunning is confident he can carry on until Brough returns for the business end of the campaign, with the Bulls eyeing a play-off berth.
“You’ve got to pay respect to how Joe has done as an acting half,” said long-serving Dunning, who has held a variety of coaching roles.
“He’s done a great job standing in there and I also thought Jordan Lilley was tremendous on his return.
“It shows a real maturity and development on Joe’s behalf. If we’ve got to run with that for the next couple of weeks, then we’ll look to do so.”
Talking to the Telegraph and Argus, Dunning added: “Losing Joe is the downside of the loan market and not being the owning club.
“But he has been fantastic with what he’s done. He’s been a great player to coach and hopefully he’ll get a shot in Super League.
“Joe will have left us feeling better about himself and in a stronger position to have a real dig at Hull KR.”
With their home game against Sheffield postponed due to ongoing Covid issues for the Eagles, the Bulls are preparing for Sunday’s visit to Newcastle.
LONDON BRONCOS skipper Will Lovell says it’s crucial he and his teammates tighten up their performances as they prepare for testing trips to Whitehaven and Newcastle on the next two Sundays.
Tom Tsang’s team, fresh from tackling table-topping visitors Toulouse, recently returned to action after a Covid-enforced break when they won 30-20 at Oldham.
Centre or second row Lovell said the play-off chasers, who came back from being 20-12 down, showed plenty of tenacity, but made too many mistakes and gave away too many cheap penalties.
“We showed great character to stay in the game and secure the win. Not for the first time this season, we had to dig deep to get out of a frustrating situation,” said Lovell.
“Our goal remains to reach the play-offs and push for promotion, and everyone is focused on achieving that.
“But our performance against Oldham wasn’t quite where we want it to be. There are areas we need to improve on.
“We can’t afford to make the same errors and give away cheap penalties, it’s where we are letting ourselves down most.
“We’ve got a busy run of fixtures coming up and we need to be right on top of those areas of concern.”
SHEFFIELD EAGLES forward Aaron Brown says it’s great to have fellow pack men Joel Farrell and Brad Knowles back alongside him.
The pair have both had spells on the sidelines through injury, and loose-forward Brown, who played alongside second row Farrell at Dewsbury, said: “They are massive to us.
“They bring that bit of aggression and go-forward that we were missing. They’re both experienced Championship players.”
Jamaica international Farrell, who is the son of former Eagles favourite Anthony and whose brother Izaac plays in the halves for Sheffield, joined from Batley in 2019.
Knowles had four seasons at Featherstone before signing for Sheffield during the same closed-season as Farrell.
Mark Aston’s side are due to return to action at home to Oldham on Sunday after the postponement of a second match, this time at Bradford, because of Covid issues within the club.
NEWCASTLE THUNDER halfback Jake Shorrocks says he’s benefitting from the expertise and coaching of fellow former Wigan players Denis Betts and Eamon O’Carroll.
One-time Great Britain second row Betts is director of rugby and ex-Ireland international prop O’Carroll coach at the progressive North-East club.
Shorrocks, 25, whose younger brother Joe is a back rower at Wigan, moved from the Super League club alongside fellow Warriors halfback Josh Woods during the closed-season.
Newcastle had just been elevated from League 1 to the Championship to replace Super League-bound Leigh.
It’s been a learning curve for both the club and Shorrocks, who made 28 Wigan appearances and played on loan for Workington, Swinton and Salford.
After a trip to Halifax comes Saturday’s visit of Bradford to Kingston Park and Shorrocks said: “I’ve got great people to learn from.
“Eamon played in Super League for a long time, and he has good knowledge from working with Steven McNamara at Catalans.
“Denis has been there done it and is a real calm head for us. When results aren’t going our way, he has made sure we stick to what we know.”
DEWSBURY RAMS coach Lee Greenwood has made three loan signings – Warrington halfback Riley Dean and props Robston Stevens (Huddersfield) and Jimmy Beckett (Featherstone).
It’s a second spell of the season at the Rams for both Stevens and Beckett, while Dean has spent time at York.
Meanwhile, Greenwood refused to use late disruption to his selection options as an excuse for the 22-18 home defeat by Swinton.
It was the Lions’ first win of the league campaign at the 15th attempt and meant the Rams, who threw away an 18-4 lead, lost not only a ninth match in 14 but also the opportunity to put further distance between themselves and the drop zone.
“Like a lot of teams have been, we were heavily disrupted going into the game, so that makes it difficult before you even start,” said Greenwood, whose side host Widnes on Sunday after making the trip to Whitehaven.
“It is literally just about what 17 I can get out. It is a grim season, I don’t think many coaches are enjoying it.
“But we got ourselves into a commanding position and then just self-combusted. It has been a bit of a theme since I have been at the club – we just can’t see games out.
“Even games we have won, we have ended up clinging on, and it’s something we need to look at and work on.”
WHITEHAVEN coach Gary Charlton says the second-half performance as his side sealed a 20-14 win at Newcastle was “outstanding” and added: “If we could play like that all the time, we would give every team in the league a game.”
The West Cumbrian side, who had centre Chris Taylor making his 150th club appearance, hit back after being 14-6 down at half-time to register a sixth win from 15 league games (they also have a draw to their credit).
Charlton added: “We defended well, had a good kick and chase game and took our chances when they were created.
“To prevent Newcastle from scoring a point in the second half was a great effort, because they have some talented players.
“It was completely different to our win against Oldham the week before when we were largely poor so we have to maintain that level as we complete the season.”
Taylor, 27, made his debut for Whitehaven in 2014. He had a short stint at Halifax the year after.
He is contracted until the end of next season and Charlton explained: “Chris is an experienced member of the squad who fits in well.”
BATLEY BULLDOGS coach Craig Lingard says he and his players are looking up rather than behind them as they approach the regular-season run-in.
Having hosted Featherstone, previously having gone fourth on the back of three successive wins, the play-off chasers visit Swinton on Sunday before hosting Sheffield seven days later.
While Batley’s trip to Toulouse on Saturday, August 28 is set to be postponed, they are at home to Whitehaven on Sunday, September 5 and neighbours Dewsbury on Sunday 12 before a visit to Halifax on Sunday 19.
“We are full of confidence, and we are looking up rather than looking down” said Lingard, whose side won at Widnes after seeing off Dewsbury and Newcastle, scoring 114 points in the process.
WIDNES VIKINGS coach Simon Finnigan has told his players to up their workrate as they aim to build momentum over the last two months of the campaign.
The coach was deeply disappointed by the performance at home to Batley, when his side held a 16-6 lead before conceding 28 unanswered points.
After losses against Halifax and Featherstone, it was a third successive setback for the Vikings, who having visited York, go to Dewsbury on Sunday.
“We were poor in the second half, certainly in the effort areas. We had got better, but we were way off and got punished,” he said.
“It’s pretty simple – we have to work harder, because we’ve seen what happens when you don’t put enough into a game.
“We did some good things to get ourselves to 16-6, but after that we just weren’t good enough, and we let the fans down.”
Finnigan field on-loan Wigan hooker Aiden Roden, who said: “It was great to get some much-needed game time, and I’m grateful to Widnes.
“I was really pleased when I heard that Simon was interested in bringing me in, and I’ve enjoyed being at the club.”
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